Cassandra has a problem, and it’s only the first of many. Being raised as the youngest child in a family of great heroes would be a challenge for anyone.
Until a few days ago, Cassandra was content with her role as a child of greatness. She was studious, spent most of her waking hours with her mother and other heads of state and at her father’s insistence, learned how to duel. As her siblings had before her, Cassandra knew she would likely be matched with a partner for political reasons and had long since accepted her role in the world.
That was, of course, before her mother died, and before her…transformation. Overnight, her soft pale skin sprouted gorgeous golden dragon scales.
Presented with a future she no longer recognizes, as the first of her kind, she must overcome a whole new set of challenges if she hopes to survive the unknown threat that comes from across the Careless Sea.
The Sakwa dragonkin are a dying race, fueled by a tribal system that failed them centuries ago but yet unable to adapt to a new way of life. In a desperate bid to keep the people focused on outside conflict, Jenya of the Toho has declared war on Cassandra’s country. An ocean may separate the two cultures, but the Sakwa see the Seven Kingdoms as their opportunity for a new start; a new start they will willingly kill and die for.
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Rock and debris fell from the ceiling of Nera’s cavernous retreat. Above an unspeakable genocide was being unleashed on the inhabitants of Mardela. Fire and lightning rained down on them from the skies. Fires broke out in the shipyards first with their flammable wares catching easily. Nera had sealed the cave after taking in as many refugees as had survived the initial onslaught.
A massive explosion had then caved in the entrance to the vast library that Nera and her predecessor served as guardians of for centuries. However, that same explosion had collapsed the ceiling of one of the birthing chambers. The psychic cries of the dying had shaken anyone capable of telepathic communication within Nera’s sanctuary.
Unfortunately, Beth’s condition remained unchanged.
Cassandra cast her eyes around at a veritable sea of terrified faces. Each one echoed the fear she felt herself. Should enough damage be inflicted above, would they be buried alive as a result? Would the attackers somehow find their way down into the catacombs of Nera’s vast library?
As though to answer her fears, there came an ear splitting explosion, which traveled towards them down the nearest tunnel. Fleeing younglings shouted in her mind as they scurried around trying to avoid the falling rock and somehow organize themselves to fend off invaders.
They inside! A male mind shouted into hers.
Everyone. Calm yourselves. Nera’s calm voice cut across the chorus of clashing thoughts, the unadulterated power of her voice threatened to render Cassie unconscious.
She tried her best to block the bedlam of thoughts, as her mother and grandmother had taught her. Somehow, she didn’t think they’d had this scenario in mind, but she tried none the less. Since her mother’s death, Lesariu’s training had taken on an almost obsessive nature. It was almost as though her grandmother had foreseen the necessity.
It was something Cassie would ask her, should she survive.
Cassie steadied her breathing and focused her will. Soon the voices became dull and distant, and then finally they became blissfully silent. She took another deep breath and solidified the walls in her mind, bracing them as the emotional turmoil in the room reached a crescendo. Realizing that she had also blocked out Nera’s instructions, she focused on her aunt’s voice and allowed it to enter her mind.
…in concert. Remember, focus and we can repel the raiders.
Cassie shook off the dust and rubble that covered her tunic and trousers and prepared herself for battle. Like her father, she was a natural with blades. From a very young age, it was one of their shared passions and they spent their time together dueling. She had left her weapons behind in Dragon Hold though, and had no idea where (or if) Nera kept such things.
She began looking around for something she could use as a weapon, a stick or rock would suffice. As she looked around, a hatchling dragon appeared from one of the intact tunnels dragging a simple longsword behind him. His eyes were wide in terror, but he resolutely dragged the long sword towards the group of dragons and humans preparing to defend themselves in the center of the massive central chamber.
Another explosion knocked him off of his feet and sent the blade clattering along the floor as a ball of fire shot out of the end of the tunnel. Nera’s hand shot out, pulling him out of harm’s way and into the arms of an adult blue dragon. One of Nera’s adults stepped up next to Cassie and summoned the blade, which landed perfectly in her waiting hand.
The sounds of shouting echoed off of the walls of the central chamber as the invaders closed in on their position. Cassie pushed a youngling behind her and took up a ready stance, waiting for the invaders to appear.
Despite her mental blocks, Cassie felt that the room stank of fear. None of those conscious had ever seen a full-fledged battle before. Some had been trained extensively, others merely given the basics. The younglings and hatchlings would likely rely on their instincts, making them fairly useless in an organized resistance. Nera’s librarians were ill equipped for battle, despite having found weapons to arm themselves with.
Cassie doubted very much that anyone had been left alive topside. Their only hope of survival was to hold the invaders here. It wasn’t a hopeless situation, but it was as near as it made little difference. Nera did her best to steady her host, though she wasn’t a warrior.
Not unlike the rest of her family, Cassie had been taught tactics through game. The family pastime of playing chess had been one of her fondest memories of childhood. Training had proceeded from there, but always at its core was the simple moving of pieces, taking advantage of their strengths while exposing the weaknesses in your enemy’s plan.
Her nerves began to fray, though, for all of her own training, she had never been exposed to a life threatening situation. Deep down inside, she worried that she wouldn’t be up to the challenge. She allowed her mental block to fall away and swayed in place for a moment as a torrent of emotions ran over her. Focusing again, she pushed them aside and spoke with her mind.
All gathered looked at her, including Nera who nodded her permission with a sigh of relief.
There are only two tunnels into this room left and only one of those accesses Mardela above. Concentrate your attacks on the right tunnel. We can hold them, if we work together.
The chattering stopped, dragon and human alike readied themselves for what was approaching. Inarticulate cries of war echoed down the tunnel and into the central chamber. Several dragons and humans fidgeted as fear rose up inside their hearts.
Steady, she ordered, we can hold them.
The fear in the room was palpable, but building quickly underneath that was resolve. They were the defenders, fighting for their homes and lives and had the upper hand because of it. The war cries of the invaders grew louder, though to their credit; the defenders’ courage held. Despite the thick stink of fear in the room, all were prepared to fight and die if must be.
Reds, Cassie shouted with her mind, fire.
Correctly interpreting her order, the red dragons took a step forward and unleashed the fire from their mouths.
Blues, she ordered next, wind.
The blue dragons stepped forward next to their red brothers and sisters and added their power, sending the columns of fire rocketing down the tunnel.
The defenders smiled resolutely as the war cries turned to cries of fear and panic. Those were quickly replaced by cries of pain, and were then silenced utterly. A cheer went up around Cassie. The hatchling dragon she had pulled behind her wrapped his arms around her leg in celebration.
Their joviality was short lived as screams of anger began to echo down the tunnel once again. These had a familiar tone to them though that Cassie was hard pressed to place.
Whites! She shouted over the din, wind.
Greens! Cassie ordered, poison.
When the screams of the invaders picked up in intensity, Beth’s eyes shot open and she sat up in the center of the gaggle of defenders.
Nera! Get as many of them as you can and flee!
Without waiting for an explanation Nera transformed her natural form, the mighty black elder dragon Senera. She gathered a swarm of younglings, hatchlings and humans under her immense torso, with a flash of blinding light they disappeared.
Cassandra! To me, she shouted as she too transformed, now child!
Cassie took a step forward and was sent flying across the room by another concussive explosion. She shook her head and looked up as Bethia vanished in another flash of light. She shook her head, unable to process for a moment what had just happened. Bethia, her closest friend, had just abandoned her.
Before the feeling of betrayal had time to coalesce in her mind, though, fear took over as a swarm of what could only be called Draconic humanoids came pouring out of the tunnel. While varied in height, color and size, they wore uniforms of leather armor stained white.
It appeared as though their rank was emblazoned on their chests, though no other markings were evident. Each of them wore a breastplate, bracers and shin guards. No shields were to be seen and each of them brandished a short sword, which was serrated near the hilt, but possessed no guard.
She fumbled around for her sword. If she was going to die, she wouldn’t go quietly.
A flash of light blinded her momentarily before she was deafened by an ear shattering roar. Behind her Bethia had re-appeared and her furious roar shook stones loose from the ceiling above. A large section of rock fell and crushed a score of Dragonkin, for that was how Cassie thought of them; not quite dragon and not quite human.
As she had become.
Though her face had retained its human appearance, these Dragonkin had maws and sharp teeth and snarled in their direction. Cassie clumsily pulled herself up onto Bethia’s back and the elder red dragon leapt into the nearest light shaft.
Why aren’t you teleporting? Cassie shouted in Bethia’s mind.
I don’t have the energy. Draconis sent me back, she replied as she scampered along the smoothened stone.
Two loud pops echoed up the light shaft moments before a harpoon burst through Cassie’s left shoulder, just below her collarbone. The blade was serrated and had a strange hue to the metal unlike anything she had seen before. She stared at it a moment in shock, unable to process what had just happened to her.
Finally, the pain registered and her shout of pain was cut off by a hard yank as she was pulled off of Bethia’s back. Her head struck the shaft as she was pulled off and she rolled head over feet downwards. Each time her head made contact with unyielding stone, her vision swam. She fought to cut the rope, but each time she managed to stop her descent another swift jerk on the rope wrenched her off balance and she continued her painful plunge.
By some small miracle, her foot found purchase and she was able to find the momentum to swing the sword with all of her strength. Instead of slicing through the rope though, she only slammed it against the wall. The line pulled her off balance again as she spun in place, utterly losing her equilibrium.
As she slipped off of the edge of the light shaft, she felt Bethia’s clawed hand close around her protectively and she held Cassie to her chest. Dust exploded around them as Bethia crashed into the floor. They landed in a tangle of rope, wing, and limbs, but Cassie managed to roll away and decapitated the first Dragonkin that approached them.
Another leapt forward and she parried its sloppy strike and sprung up, ramming her knee into its chin as she spun in place and deflected three slashes. Two more Dragonkin fell to her blade as she carved her way towards the tunnel entrance. If she could manage to draw away their attackers, Bethia could recover enough to make another attempt to flee.
Cassie flipped over the next Dragonkin, using her spare hand, she grasped it under the jaw and used her momentum to throw it into the next enemy. She reversed her grip on the hilt of her sword thrust backwards, killing another Dragonkin as it closed in on her with its sword raised high above its head. In one fluid motion, she tore her sword from the first and cleaved open the abdomen of a second Dragonkin. She reversed grip again, planted her feet and chopped into the next Dragonkin between the neck and shoulder.
Her blade became stuck between its plates, so she released it. The power of her strike drove the enemy to its knees and its hand lost the strength to hold its weapon. She caught it with her left hand. He flew backwards as she slashed his face with a powerful blow, whipping around to face the next attacker.
An enterprising Dragonkin grabbed a hold of the rope, still attached to her shoulder and pulled her backwards. Pain shot up into her mind and disoriented her. She went down to one knee as she spun and hoped that their own weapons could slice through the rope where she had previously failed.
Near euphoria rose up inside her as the sword sliced through the rope as though it were merely twine.
A bolt of lightning then struck her in the chest and shot her backwards into Bethia. The two screamed in pain as the lightning cascaded through their bodies, sending them to the dusty floor in twitching agony. Blissfully, after a few excruciatingly long moments, the lightning stopped.
As Cassandra’s vision began to collapse in on itself, she saw a robed Dragonkin step forward with its arms raised. Another bolt of lightning struck her like a hammer to an anvil and she lost consciousness. Her last recollection was her father shouting her name in desperation.
David has been writing for most of his life, though only began putting together full-length novels in 2008. His first two novels were distinctly fantasy, containing the usual fare of dragons, princes, swords and sorcery.
With “Daughter of Vengeance”, he took leave of the more common tropes in fantasy and instead wrote a book predominantly from a female point of view. The story follows a young woman coming of age while apprenticed to a master assassin.
His strengths lie in compelling stories with a satisfying mix of action, dialogue and plot building. He doesn’t believe in waxing philosophical to fill pages or fluff his word count, there will be not be entire paragraphs dedicated to the painfully long-winded description of a button. He also uses his extensive martial arts and marksmanship experience to create believable and easy to follow action.
Most genre fiction uses the genre to drive the plot, David believes that the genre should merely be used to supplement a great story. A mystery is just a mystery, but a Holmes mystery is infinitely more entertaining in his opinion. There are still inalienable requirements to any genre fiction and as a fan of the fantasy genre, he still loves to read and write within fantastical surroundings.